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Shipping hazardous materials (HAZMAT)

Is there a chance you’re going to ship anything hazardous to your customers? While the first answer might be a “no”, this is most likely before you learn that many seemingly ordinary products, such as nail polish, perfume, or batteries, fall under the umbrella of HAZMAT. These shipments need to be treated differently from your average packages.

Generally, cosmetics, automotive, or consumer electronics industries have the highest chance of shipping hazardous goods, but almost any business might have selected products in this category. For ecommerce business owners, it’s vital to consider if any of the goods are classified as HAZMAT and study the regulations that apply to mailing them. This might affect the carrier options you choose in your shipping strategy and your overall shipping flow.

This article provides a general overview of HAZMAT shipping. Make sure you seek appropriate advice from your carrier or legal advisor on specific regulations that apply to your shipments.

Introducing HAZMAT

Hazardous materials (also known as HAZMAT, or dangerous goods when shipped internationally) are any items capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health, safety, and property when transported. Each hazardous material is assigned to a hazard class.

According to the widely used United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, there are nine classes of hazardous materials based on the threat they might pose during transportation. Classes may vary by country, but they generally include flammable liquids and solids, explosives, corrosive and oxidizing substances, radioactive materials, gasses, and toxic and infectious substances.

Here’s just a few examples of everyday items classified as HAZMAT:

  • Lithium batteries and any electronics that include them, such as cell phones and laptops
  • Aerosols such as hairspray, disinfectants, and spray paint
  • Fragrances like colognes, perfumes, and body sprays
  • Nail polishes and nail polish removers
  • Paint, paint thinners, and removers, including wood stains and adhesives
  • Dry ice
  • Fuel or fuel-powered machinery (this could also include gas lanterns, camp stoves, model cars, and lawn equipment)

While some hazardous materials (like liquid mercury) are completely prohibited from mailing by major shippers, some can be shipped under certain conditions. These potentially mailable items must be properly stored, packed, and handled and must have all the necessary warning labels applied and the required documentation enclosed. This way, it is ensured that they are safe for transportation and handled appropriately.

Is HAZMAT compliance a must?

Timely identifying potential hazmat shipments ensures the safety of staff, property, and even your customers. Moreover, it helps avoid shipping delays, lowering the possibility of accidents like fires or explosions during transportation.

As a mailer, you’re at all times responsible for the following:

  • Identifying if your parcel contains any mailable hazardous materials;
  • Declaring HAZMAT/dangerous goods according to your carrier's requirements;
  • Following the regulations that apply to these items during shipment, including storage, handling, packaging, markings, labeling, and all the necessary documentation.
    Ensure you comply with the legislation of both your shipping origin region and the destination region.

You should also communicate the possible risks associated with hazmat shipments to your staff and provide necessary training when applicable.

Penalties you might face for failing to comply with HAZMAT shipping requirements may include fines and other possible legal action, depending on the severity of the consequences (such as injuries or property damage).

How do I know my item’s hazardous?

To determine if a particular product in your store is classified as HAZMAT, you can check the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) issued by the product's manufacturer. This document contains information such as the chemical composition, health and environmental hazards, protective measures, and safety precautions for storing, handling, and transporting the product.

Using this data, feel free to:

  • Search your carrier's documentation by item's shipping name or description for mailing guidelines;
    For US-based merchants: learn where you can start off for USPS, UPS, and FedEx
  • Check with your local postal service officials;
  • Or seek third-party legal advice.

This way, you can find out if your shipment is classified as HAZMAT and whether your carrier considers it mailable.

My shipment’s HAZMAT. What should I do?

After you confirm your parcel contains mailable hazardous materials (for example, it’s a mobile phone with a lithium battery), you need to carefully study regulations that apply to shipping it, including your carrier's requirements.

Depending on the presence of hazardous materials in the shipment, you might be able to access only a limited list of shipping methods from your carrier. For example, HAZMAT shipments may be limited to ground transportation.

As HAZMAT is a variety of materials, different guidelines may apply to different items. Also, it’s likely there are separate regulations for domestic and international shipments. In general, very few hazardous materials are allowed to be mailed internationally, and you need to fill out a dangerous goods declaration (DGD) or a similar document.

So that’s what you need to comply with:

  • packaging and labeling requirements (e.g., applicable warning labels or sealing liquids in multiple containers to avoid leakage)
  • storage and handling requirements
  • necessary documentation

You also might need to purchase a special shipping label for your parcels. Learn how you can buy USPS HAZMAT shipping labels right from your Ecwid admin

If you reuse HAZMAT-labeled boxes as packaging for your non-HAZMAT shipments later, make sure to remove all the outer stickers that no longer apply to the new shipment to avoid package delays.

Related articles

Choosing the right shipping strategy for your store
Shipping labels

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